Why Would We Want a Seal of Biliteracy in Massachusetts?
Nicole Sherf, world languages and cultures
There is a national movement afoot to strengthen state K-12 foreign language education in which legislation is created to provide for a Seal on a high school graduate’s diploma that attests to their proficiency in English and another language. The Seal of Biliteracy is so interesting because it documents foreign language proficiency by more than just seat time. As we all know, how many years of a language you happened to take does not necessarily translate to functional ability in the language. California, Illinois, Texas, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey and Washington have passed legislation creating a Seal of Biliteracy, and Utah expects to do the same in 2014.
There is a Bill for a Seal of Biliteracy being considered by the Joint Committee on Education in the Massachusetts State House. It is called H533 “An Act to Promote Global Trade and Economic Development through Dual Language and Biliteracy” (you can find it here: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H533) . The Bill calls for the creation of an Office of Dual Language Education Programs within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and an official seal which would be distributed to districts in the Commonwealth who oversee the process. The school district would be charged with determining the measure for which the level of functional language proficiency is documented. The documentation of proficiency could take place through systems that are already in place in most schools such as Advanced Placement (AP) scores, International Baccalaureate scores, SAT II test scores, or proficiency tests such as we have used in our Department. These proficiency tests, called STAMP and AAPPL, determine a candidate’s level of proficiency based on a nationally-agreed-upon scale.
With a tradition of strong educational programming in the state of Massachusetts, the discipline of foreign languages has been short changed in many ways through lack of funding. For example, there is no one at the DESE that is charged with coordinating foreign language education in the state. And did you know that there is no state foreign language graduation requirement? In addition, and most importantly, there is no state sponsored assessment system to demonstrate that our students are able to do what our state Framework outlines for graduates. H533 is a cost-effective and easy approach to this problem.
I spent my March break at the State House working to get this legislative process started. I truly believe that the Bill would have important implications for our state in the promotion of global trade and economic development. The Seal provides colleges and employers information that would be understood statewide regarding the multilingual ability of their candidates. The Seal would go a long way to resolving our DESE deficiencies by providing a system to document foreign language proficiency attained statewide as well as a way for students to demonstrate their college and career readiness in the area of dual or multi language proficiency. Find more information about the national Seal of Biliteracy movement here: http://sealofbiliteracy.org/.